PWC The Re-emergence of Manufacturing in Southern New England

On Tuesday, October 26, 2021, a panel that included – Paul Felici, Academic Associate from Asnuntuck Community Colleges Manufacturing Technology Center, Anthony Medici, Senior Director of Manufacturing for Medtronic, Paul S. Lavoie, General Manager for Carey Manufacturing, Brian Stach, General Manager for MW Industries, INC and Chris Ulbrich. Chief Operating Offier for Ulbrich Stainless Steels and Special Metals, Inc. and Moderator Rick Mullins, Vice President Business Development of Sign Pro – spoke at the PWC, Professional Women in Construction event called, "The Reemergence of Manufacturing in Southern New England.

The discussion was kicked off with a question about the future of Automation in this industry. In which Chris Ulbrich noted that “Automation is going to flourish with short & long term inflation, worker shortages and the cost of healthcare. They want to replace human beings because humans are unpredictable variables that prove to be more costly due to that inflation. Robots are more efficient." With that point made, Chris believes that automation could cause an unemployment issue in the future. Meanwhile Paul Lavoie chimed in to mention that the last legislative cycle in Connecticut included a bill that supports Industry 4.0, the 4th industrial revolution. "The steps to Industry 4.0 include engaging manufacturers, educating them and then enabling them to implement automation." This legislative plan in CT focuses on small to mid-size manufacturers. In conclusion, Paul noted that Carey Manufacturing; a small business, is currently in all 4 stages of the industrial revolution and automation equals maximized productivity. The legislation to support this is just getting started!

The next topic of discussion is not an unfamiliar talking point for all manufacturers right now; the supply chain issue. Paul Felici mentioned that in education, the students are the supply and throughout COVID-19 they had to find ways to engage people who like to be hands-on throughout a time of remote learning. Now they are focusing on re-engaging the future workforce as they work towards moving things back to normal. Brian Stach offers that he has turned to domestic materials since he cannot rely on the market overseas. The best way he has dealt with the supply chain issues is to give his customers the right lead times and provide open communication. Chris Ulbrich says, "the supply chain is a mess!" He deals with this by planning way ahead and has been already buying material for late 2022 and 2023. He also matches customer PO's to the vendor PO so they can plan resources 40-60 weeks out. Anthony Medici partners with Connecticut suppliers. At Medtronic they attempt to be dual sourced on many components which adds pressure due to the requirements within the industry, Lastly, Paul Lavoie started off by saying, "American made products don't get stuck on cargo ships!" Carey has seen a higher volume of quoting activity and orders because they make the products in the USA. The supply chain issues effect his business more on the hardware side because metal and raw materials are hard to get right now. "We have to be adaptable, flexible and be better at being creative to be able to meet our customers needs."

Next, Moderator Rick Mullins asked the panel how they access skilled labor. Paul Felici believes that in education, in order to bring a prepared workforce, they need to go back in-person with on campus classes. He has been hosting small groups of tours and open houses to hook people in and engage them in training for a career in manufacturing. He also uses marketing initiatives to spread awareness of all of the job opportunities, no debt and great wages that come with pursuing a career in this industry. Brian Stach and Anthony Medici both accesses the skilled workforce through relationships with local schools and manufacturing programs. Chris Ulbrich discussed the 3 drivers of manufacturing, "cost, talent and promotion." He noted some of the government and state initiatives that are being taken to help with workforce development such as the CT Governor appointing a Chief Manufacturing Officer, Colin Cooper to support manufacturing. He also works with his local Chamber of Commerce to make public transportation a tool that will allow people to get to work easier. Paul Lavoie was proud to announce that Carey Manufacturing is fully staffed. "We focus on retention by cultivating a positive culture, People want to stay at Carey throughout their career. Peter Egan became active in communal workforce development. We make ourselves available as a resource to the long term relationships we have in workforce development and when they need something we always say yes. After reshoring manufacturing in 2016, Carey Manufacturing has a youthful team and the focus is retention, retention, retention!"

The next topic was on investments, along with what keeps these businesses in CT & the US and how we will continue to survive here into the future. Brian Stach said, he invests in equipment, people and infrastructure. “Investing in innovation with products helps to meet customer needs and access to skilled labor is what keeps them in Connecticut." Meanwhile Paul Lavoie mentions that a motivated workforce also keeps them in CT. In order to continue to survive manufacturing in the USA, Carey has to be gently relentless against improving productivity and reducing cost. He must ask himself, "is there a better and faster way to do this?" From a financial perspective they have to slice & dice price regularly and they can't get lazy or margins drop.

When asked about the economy, Paul Felici said, "manufacturing is the bedrock of the economy. Things will always need to be made!"

Paul Lavoie discussed the aging workforce and how it is addressed at Carey Manufacturing. "We have a robust succession plan and people in training have to take on future roles. Young people bring a unique perspective to the business and have a fresh set of ideas on how to get things done. However, as the workforce changes the biggest change has to come from me and how I manage a workforce that looks at things differently from myself. It is important to adapt to your workforce and measure their productivity in new ways."

To finish up the event, our moderator asked for one final comment from each member of the panel. Brian Stach said, "make customers a priority. Succeed by solving their problems. Treat employees fairly with opportunity to grow and make your workplace a place that people want to be.”

Chris Ulbrich said, "don't take things for granted. Be prepared for the future and learn about inflation."

Anthony Medici said, "the key is knowing how to stay here and exist day in and day out. We can't compete with low cost countries but there are other ways we can add value! Define why you exist, what that vision is and how you provide value to customers," Paul Lavoie's final comment was, "it is important to consider the question of, what can we do to effect what is going on within our four walls to take great care of our employees & customers. Employees come first because they take care of our customers. Customer take care of our business and lastly, the business takes care of our owners."

Lastly, Paul Felici said, "manufacturing is alive and well in Connecticut. Take consideration that this is a great career path for you! We cannot compete with China's cost of labor. However, we are still here because we do it better. Higher quality products and higher paid employees create things that last."

Published: November 2, 2021